Pac-Man looks like Patrick Stewart to me. Imagine Patrick Stewart’s head about 2-3 times its current size with a pair of arms and legs attached to it. Can you see Pac-Man? I sure do. But that’s not why we still love this yellow chomping ball person/thing, it’s because he’s a classic video game character and one of video game’s first icons. Pac-Man represents the essence of video games and the latest game in the franchise, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, will attempt to lure your children into its unassuming ride.
Ghostly Adventures is a by-the-numbers platformer that takes its cue from the Mario games by offering a collection of themed worlds containing a handful of levels that Pac (has his friends refer to him in the game) must survive in order to progress. While the game is surely aimed at the preadolescent demographic, bearing the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon, there is fun and even challenge to be had for us big kids too.
As in life, it’s the simple things in Ghostly Adventures that are its most attractive features. This is not the tight, precise gameplay of Super Meat Boy or Super Mario 3D Land. Pac-Man doesn’t run here, he moves in a nonchalant manner and when he jumps it feels exactly as you had imagined if Princess Peach and Mario consummated and we were playing a game based on their offspring. In other words the controls are a bit floaty. It works, though, and it gives players who don’t have lightning-fast, twitchy reflexes a chance to keep up.
The levels are full of easy-going platforming challenges which for the most part are fun and not overly complicated to maneuver through. Occasionally you will encounter a frustrating moment where the controls, camera, and level design become catty with each other at your expense, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for this style of game. Each world is dressed in a unique theme, such as ancient ruins and a volcano with flowing magma, and there are unique power-ups within each so they not only look but play differently as well.
Power-ups play a major role in the game. By default, Pac uses his mighty jaw as a basic attack as he chomps his way through the legion of ghosts attempting to thwart his mission. He also has a special attack which scares the ghosts and turns them frozen with fear, as in the classic Pac-Man games. However, more often than not you’ll have a power-up activated which will replace the default special attack. These power-ups do more than make Pac an effective ghostbuster, they also play a key role in manipulating the environment to overcome platforming challenges. In the ancient ruins I mentioned earlier, Pac can turn into a rolling boulder (think Indiana Jones) and the game starts to play more like Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball. Each level contains collectibles that go towards increasing Pac’s life count or currency to access bonus content.
Thanks to the variety of the level design and the gameplay, I never got bored as I played through the single-player mode… but I also rarely felt challenged. I should point out that Ghostly Adventures is a mostly linear experience, the levels do not cater to the likes of open-ended exploring or branching paths. It’s clear that the game is aimed at kids and the design philosophy is one that sponsors steady progress. Those of us who aren’t still waking up every morning and running to the TV to catch their favorite Saturday morning cartoons would be better served playing something along the lines of Uncharted.
There’s a multiplayer mode that may provide a couple of hours of additional playtime but it’s of the “tacked on” ilk. Up to four players are thrown into a classic Pac-Man maze-style map as ghosts and tasked with taking down Pac-Man using a variety of attacks and power-ups. It took about two hours to get through all of the maps and my multiplayer partners and I agreed it was a mostly boring affair. It’s a nice mode to have, but the overall value of the product isn’t really affected with or without it. You’re buying this game for the singleplayer mode.
Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is a simple yet fun experience that doesn’t go out of its way to break new ground or attempt to compete with the platformer heavyweights. Most importantly, it’s a harmless addition to the Pac-Man franchise and does not offend the legacy of the original game. Give this game to a kid not solely to satisfy his or her video game cravings but to keep Pac-Man alive within the next generation of gamers.